A reader wrote to us a few days ago about a “long thin brownish worm” that is four to five inches (10-13 centimeters) long and was found under a potted plant. The potted plant was sitting on top of a tree stump, although this probably isn’t of relevance as far as identification is concerned. The reader said the worm appears to have “tiny scales and slithers rather quickly like a snake.” The reader is wondering what the worm is and what to do with it, and he also wanted to know if he found a pest.
Unfortunately, we weren’t sent a picture of the creature, and that obviously hinders our identification efforts. We’re having quite a bit of trouble visualizing the strange characteristics of whatever it is our reader found. It seemed like it could have just been a regular earthworm on the basis of half of its description (i.e., the fact that the creature is a long, thin brownish worm found under a potted plant), but then the part about the scales and slithering basically disqualifies this suggestion. In fact, based on the scales and slithering, we aren’t sure if the reader found a worm at all. There are so-called “scale worms,” which together make up the Polynoidae family, and since they are annelids they are technically worms as we define the word, but these are exotic and bizarre-looking worms that live in aquatic environments. So, these worms have scales (or what are technically called “elytra”), but this couldn’t be what our reader found.
If our reader didn’t find a worm, what could he have found? Generally, we would suggest a few worm-like creatures, like some sort of insect larvae or millipede, but the reader’s description doesn’t match anything we know of. Therefore, we’ll look beyond the worm-like arthropods, and really the only thing we can think of is that our reader found a slow worm. Despite their name, slow worms are not worms, and one normally wouldn’t be inclined to even classify them as such. They look essentially exactly like snakes, although they are technically reptiles for a number of morphological and physiological reasons. They have scales and slither like a snake, and they tend to stay out of sight, lying under rocks and logs; thus, under a potted plant seems like a reasonably place to find one. As we said, it is a bit strange to mistake one for a worm, but we suppose this is possible, especially when they are young. The adults can reach over a foot in length, but a young slow worm might only be a few inches long, and it may indeed look a bit like a long, thin worm. We suppose our reader might have simply found some other type of small snake as well. We bring up slow worms simply because we have some familiarity with them because of their name. (A site called All About Worms is not befitting of its name unless it covers not only worms, but also things that are called worms, or have “worm” in their name.)
As we said, it is really hard to say what our reader found without a picture, but it doesn’t sound like a worm, and nor does it sound like the other types of worm-like creatures we write about with regularity. Instead, it sounds like a snake or slow worm. We recommend that our reader look into these possibilities and perhaps he’ll find out what he found.
Finally, as concerns our reader’s other questions, we don’t think he needs to “do” anything with the creature. The potted plant is already outside (unless the reader inexplicably has a tree stump in his house), and like any other random creature you might see outside, you should just let it be. As for whether it is a pest, we don’t know because we are unsure what was found, and moreover, what counts as a pest depends on one’s circumstances. However, if the reader found something like a slow worm or snake, we don’t know why he would regard it as a pest.